For Dick Vitale, it must have been awesome (baby). The school he coached at in the late 1970's chose to honor him by naming the home court after him. His friend, Steve Lavin, accepted the challenge to bring his Red Storm to play this dangerous game, with the road emotions and a young team in a small, hot gym.
So of course, the Titans and spanked their Big East visitors 69-63, a warm occasion that sparked a court storming as the snow swirled outside. For the Detroit Titans (4-6), their fourth win is their first win over a Division 1 team in regulation time; they have two wins over non D-1 teams and a victory over 0-9 Austin Peay in overtime.
Ray McCallum led the Titans with 21 points and 4 assists. Chase Simon scored 20, Doug Anderson had 10 points and 8 rebounds, and some active defense in the paint.
Maurice Harkless led the Storm with 19 points and 11 rebounds; D`Angelo Harrison had 15 points on 3-13 shooting (3-10 from beyond the arc). Sir`Dominic Pointer had 10 points in his homecoming game, which saw a whole Sir`Dom cheering section behind the Red Storm bench.
"The education continues," coach Mike Dunlap (running the show in Steve Lavin's absence) said after the game, referring to the young team's learning curve.
But for restless fans, the thrill of a top-3 recruiting class wasn't supposed to come with a sub-.500 record, or with Horizon League big men throwing down dunks, or so many struggling players.
This is the worry with a young team: what happens when the lumps come raining down? The Red Storm actually rebounded both ends, grabbing over 50% of their misses and restricting Detroit to 26.7% of their offensive rebounds. But all the other staples of their game abandoned them.
The Red Storm found everything difficult, despite some good stretches of defense in the second half. Unlike in previous games, the deadly opponent threats didn't come from hot shooters on the perimeter; Detroit finished the game 5 for 18 (28%).
The Titans found their offense inside with Ray McCallum (14 of his 21 points in the second half) and a total of 30 points in the paint. The Titans only turned the ball over 11 times (17.4% of their possessions, below their season average of 23%). And the Titans enjoyed more trips to the free throw line (though some were end of game fouls). St. John's couldn't get defense off of offense without turnovers; they had 10 points off of turnovers and 6 fast break points in the game.
Essentially, the staples of the St. John's game - keeping the opponent out of the paint, drawing fouls, and transition offense - were absent, leaving the Red Storm with a team forced to shoot deep jumpers and drive into the waiting hands of shot blockers.
It's hard to pin this on one player, but the noticeable change has been in Nurideen Lindsey.
The tentative and haphazard Nurideen Lindsey (4 points, 6 turnovers, 7 rebounds) had been the the player who drew the most fouls for the Red Storm, and his inability to score has hurt the Red Storm's offense. After the game, Coach Dunlap stressed that there are "better days ahead for Nuri."
But for a team that assumed scoring to be no problem, the disappearance of Lindsey has turned out to make the Johnnies offense predictable, defendable, and even a little lackluster.
Down 32-21 after a lackluster first half, St. John's struggled to make anything happen on either end. The Storm finished the first half with 3 turnovers forced and 21 points on 27 shots. The team managed only 4 free throw attempts. They were unable to score in the paint, with God`sgift Achiuwa bracketed by LaMarcus Lowe and Doug Anderson. And Nurideen Lindsey found himself watching from the bench in favor of Phil Greene.
This team is taking its lumps.
Before the games start, it's easy to talk about playing hard, about cohesion. But when the team's on the edge of .500, struggling to get its attack going, and unable to play its game... who does the team look to? Not just for stories of the old days, but to carry them when they're down?
The Johnnies are still searching for the answer.
The next game is a rematch with the Fordham Rams in the Holiday Festival, on Saturday, December 17th.